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Six commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard were killed Sunday in double bombings in a fractious southeastern province where Sunni groups have run a low-level insurgency against Iran's Shiite government.
The government quickly blamed Western powers for the attacks, which killed at least 31 people and wounded at least 28 others. They took place early Sunday as the Revolutionary Guard leaders were meeting with Sunni and Shiite tribal leaders in a "unity" gathering aimed at reconciliation.
The largely Sunni militant group, Jundallah, meaning "Soldiers of God," claimed responsibility for the attack in Sistan-Baluchistan Province, reports The New York Times. One suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a mosque where the reconciliation meeting was gathered, and the second attack targeted a car in the same area carrying Guard members, reports the Times.
Jundallah spans the border into Pakistan, and Iran has accused the US of supporting the militant group as part of a strategy to promote insurgencies by ethnic minorities. Sunday Iran reiterated that charge. The Revolutionary Guard released a statement asserting there was "no doubt that this violent and inhumane act was part of the strategy of foreigners and enemies of the regime and the revolution," reports the Times.
"We consider the recent terrorist attack to be the result of US action. This is the sign of America's animosity against our country," Larijani said. "Mr. Obama has said he will extend his hand toward Iran, but with this terrorist action he has burned his hand," he said referring to President Obama's repeated diplomatic overtures to Tehran.
Sistan-Baluchistan, which borders Pakistan, is home to a large presence of ethnic Baluchis, who are largely Sunni. Minorities in Iran have long complained about discrimination by the Shiite, Persian government.
Jundallah, which claims to fight for the rights of Sunnis, has launched attacks against the government and Revolutionary Guard targets in the province for years. The group targeted a mosque in the province's capital of Zahedan in May, killing 21 people, and also launched a wave of attacks in 2007, including one that killed 11 civilian employees of the Revolutionary Guard, reports Bloomberg.
Sunday's bombings killed the deputy commander of the Guard's ground forces, Gen. Nur-Ali Shushtari, as well as the commander in Sistan-Baluchistan, Gen. Mohammad-Zadeh, and several other local commanders, reports Bloomberg.
The government put the Guard, an elite force intended to preserve the ideals of the Islamic Revolution, in control of security in Sistan-Baluchistan in April to try to stop escalating violence. (Read the Monitor's in-depth report on the Revolutionary Guard.)
The Times reports that the Guard was a symbolic target because of the prominence it has attained since Iran's disputed elections in June.
Though the attacks come in the context of local issues, they also come at a time when the Guards have emerged as the most powerful political, social and economic bloc in the nation, eclipsing all others, from the clergy to the conservatives. In the aftermath of Iran's contested presidential election, the Guards took control of national security, overseeing a violent crackdown on protests as well as mass arrests of journalists, former officials, academics and ordinary protestors.
In this context, [Mustafa El Labbad, director of the East Center for Regional and Strategic Studies in Cairo, Egypt] said, an attack on the Guard — no matter the motivation — has symbolic resonance across the nation and the world. "It is designed to affect the image of Iran," Mr. Labbad said. "Iran now looks like a state that is not secure. It is secure, but it has the image of being internally unstable."